Peace Corps Pays Tribute to President John F. Kennedy and His Living Legacy

November 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 21, 2003 – Returned volunteers and staff members at the Peace Corps headquarters building in Washington, D.C., this morning paid tribute to President John F. Kennedy for his contributions to society – including the founding of the United States Peace Corps – by holding an observance in his honor.

“While we are deeply saddened by the tragic event that took his life 40 years ago tomorrow, we should feel comfort in knowing that President Kennedy’s dream—the dream that he first shared on the steps of the student union—is alive and well in 2003. Every day, this dream echoes throughout the halls of our building, in our 11 U.S. regional offices, and in all of our posts abroad,” Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez stated. “This dream stirs in the hearts of our volunteers all over the globe who wake up every morning and dedicate and re-dedicate themselves to the noble mission of serving their country and humankind. In fact, this dream is so alive and well that the number of volunteers serving in the Peace Corps is at a 28-year high.”

At the ceremony, Director Vasquez honored the founding father of the agency by highlighting the many milestones in President Kennedy's quest to establish the Peace Corps. He also recognized returned volunteers and employees who served in the Peace Corps and continue to keep President Kennedy’s vision strong. The observance included a playing of President Kennedy’s speech upon creating the Peace Corps and finished with a traditional Irish blessing.

President Kennedy first proposed the idea of the Peace Corps on the steps of the Student Union at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14, 1960. Less than five months later, on March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed the Executive Order to create the Peace Corps. In August 1961, the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived to in Ghana to serve.

Upon signing the Executive Order, President Kennedy remarked: “But if the life [in the Peace Corps] will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps – who works in a foreign land – will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Since 1961, more than 170,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

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